Now that our SaaS startup, Nextup.ai has successfully sold, we’ve been reflecting back on the journey of growing from an idea between two colleagues to a company with 1,000+ customers and 12 full-time employees.
While we had some previous experience working at software startups before starting our own, my co-founder Mike and I had never started our own. We relied on the knowledge and mentorship from many other entrepreneurs and business leaders to help us find our way.
We definitely made mistakes along the way, but also had many successes. We wanted to share what we think the top ten “things we did right” were as we grew our business in hopes it can help other pre-revenue startups get their start right.
From the beginning, we knew we wanted Nextup to take a different approach than most SaaS companies when it came to our customer service. We did not want our customers to have to go down the black hole of request forms or “search for your answer” style of help docs. We wanted it to be easy for them to get answers to their questions.
Early on, we decided to adopt an always-available approach to customer service. We made ourselves available to our customers via Slack, email, intercom messaging and Zoom calls. However they preferred to get help, we were there.
As our company grew, so did our dedication to putting our customer’s first. At the time of our acquisition, we had more than 50 dedicated customer Slack channels where we provided 1:1 customer support.
This focus on the customer is what we believe led to our growth and success. Happy customers are loyal customers, and they’re also much more willing to send you a referral or publicly recommend your product.
It’s no secret that working in a startup environment can mean long hours, high stress and often, mundane tasks on your to-do list. After working for startups previously, we knew that in order to be successful we had to have engaged, happy employees.
We decided to implement a few policies to ensure our employees felt valued and happy working at Nextup. These included:
We were working with an all-remote team and while we were able to effectively collaborate and communicate through Slack, we felt it was important to also maintain regular “live” meetings. We quickly adopted a culture where questions and collaboration became real-time video chats. This was in addition to our regularly scheduled live meetings.
Live meetings were important for us to stay connected, speed work along, and keep communication effective.
Transparency and collaboration were key ethos for our company. We wanted our customers to be aware of what we were working on and also be able to provide feedback on what features or new products we were releasing.
Our public roadmap on Trello was a space our customers (or really anyone) could collaborate with us on our development roadmap.
It is not an exaggeration to say that our customers shaped the path our development team took when it came to new projects. We knew they were the people using our apps every day, so they probably had some good perspective for us.
As our customer base grew, we began to see that we had some great advocates using our apps. We reached out to several of our more enthusiastic customers and asked if they would join our customer advisory council.
These customers not only gave us important feedback and direction, but they served as allies and supporters for our growing business. Many of these relationships led to important customer success stories featured on our website and connections made for our sales team.
In addition to listening to our customers, we took their success using our apps seriously. We took it to heart when they had any issues configuring an app or using it to meet their goals. We didn’t ignore their issues or questions, but instead we addressed them 1:1 until everything was resolved. Our customers knew they could rely on us to help them succeed, and this helped create solid relationships.
When you’re growing a business, there’s no time to sit around stagnant. At Nextup, we took the approach of “alway releasing,” which meant our team was always in creation-mode. In the year before our acquisition, we released four new integration apps, launched a new website and created 55 workflow demos alone.
The lesson here, is don’t wait for the “right time” to launch something. Get it done and get it out there.
We knew in order to effectively grow our customer base, we had to be excellent at building authentic relationships. It wasn’t enough to deliver a great product. We had to understand and connect with the people using our apps.
We accomplished this by having a clear, friendly brand voice, being accessible for questions, and by looking out for our customers success the way we would our own. Many of our customers came to know us not only as partners in business, but as friends.
Beyond our customers, we fostered relationships with our partners, contractors, and other leaders in the industry by offering our support and encouragement when needed. Conferences (and the social events after) proved a great way to get to know our peers in the space.
We have an internal policy that all business conversations must take place in open Slack channels vs in DMs. This helps our team gain visibility, identify synergies, and boost creativity and collaboration.
We also held weekly live meetings where everyone on the team from delivery to marketing to product development shared updates. This helped our team break out of their silos and gain better awareness of the health of the company overall.
Nothing boosted our morale and helped our collaboration more than our annual company retreats. We didn’t make these “work trips,” but rather genuinely tried to take our team to amazing locations to connect and have fun.
While we certainly had some hiccups along the way, we did many things right when growing our business. It’s been an amazing ride!
If you’d like to read more in our series “Selling our SaaS Startup,” check out the other posts in the series below.